One of the most internationally celebrated fictional characters of all time, surviving multiple cinematic reincarnations and enjoying numerous literary reboots & spin-offs, James Bond first editions are as enduring & alluring to collectors as the character himself...
Back in the mid-noughties I was fortunate enough to be invited to a high-security Westminster bank vault to evaluate a private collection of inscribed Ian Fleming first editions, a suitably clandestine experience and a rare opportunity to define an author as, literally, “bankable”. There are not many authors’ works in first edition that can be defined as relatively safe investments, but Ian Fleming must be amongst that select few.
The ongoing success of the James Bond franchise, combined with a nostalgia for the books & films enjoyed by previous generations, ensures he is a favourite among modern book collectors, and Fleming’s first editions provide an excellent insight into the impact of edition, condition, association and market awareness on value.
Serious collectors of Ian Fleming's books tend to focus on James Bond first editions in hardback and dust-jacket. The first three James Bond first editions (Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and Moonraker) were in jackets designed by Kenneth Lewis; Pat Marriott undertook the artwork for the next two titles (Diamonds are Forever and Dr No), before Fleming and the publishers Jonathan Cape finally plumped for Richard Chopping, whose famous allegorical artwork was to adorn the remainder of Fleming's James Bond first editions, up until the posthumous publication of Octopussy and The Living Daylights in 1966.
Identifying first editions is simple enough, as any reissues would indicate the subsequent printing details on the copyright page, and Book Club editions would normally be bound in different colour boards and declare that they were for the Book Club on the title-page.
In the case of some James Bond first editions there are 'issue points' which can determine the true first issue within the first print-run; in many cases the impact of these, especially compared to condition, can be negligible (for example the 'shoo' for 'shoot' on page 10, line 31 in Moonraker), but in others the relative scarcity of the true first issue can see a substantial shift in what collectors are willing to pay. Notable examples of this are the true first of The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), which was issued in black boards bearing a gun stamped in gilt-foil to the upper cover, a feature quickly dropped by the publishers Cape; the absence/presence of a review by The Sunday Times on the jacket of Casino Royale (1953); the presence of a 'quad mark' on the title-page of The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), and a small dink to the blind-impressed design on the upper board of Goldfinger (1959).
These issue points are important, and should be noted by conscientious cataloguers of James Bond first editions. They also underline the importance of buying through credible & reliable booksellers (such as Shapero Rare Books, of course), who can be trusted to know the various issues and how to price accordingly. For those feeling brave enough to submerge themselves in the bibliographical intricacies of collecting James Bond books, we would recommend Jon Gilbert's stunningly exhaustive, handy pocket-guide[!] to the works of Ian Fleming, published by the Queen Anne Press. The information contained therein is remarkable, not least for the attention paid to the different types of boards used to bind the books.
Special mention should be made of the only official, special edition of a James Bond first edition by Ian Fleming, which is the deluxe edition of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963); this was issued simultaneously with the first 'trade edition', but is specially bound in vellum-backed boards in a stated limitation of 250 signed copies (though an additional 35 were produced for presentation), and features a colour portrait of the author by Amherst Villiers. It was also issued in a transparent plastic dust-jacket, the original of which is not always easy to distinguish and again can require the expertise of someone who has seen other copies to correctly identify.
Like many collectable authors, there are numerous spin-offs and subsequent editions that appeal to some collectors. Real completists might seek out all the variant issues and uncorrected publisher's proofs for example; others might enjoy hunting down foreign-language editions which sometimes bore alternative artwork, and yet others enjoy hunting the paperback editions, some of which are scarce in their own right, including the intriguing, luridly-titled You Asked for It (a.k.a. Casino Royale) and Too Hot to Handle (a.k.a. Moonraker).
Condition for most Fleming collectors is paramount, even the later Bond titles in the Richard Chopping dust-jackets can vary wildly in price depending on condition, and the market has become increasingly fussy; compared to 10-15 years ago, browning and moderate age wear to '60s era jackets can now see the value drop to a tenth of what a committed collector might expect to pay for a truly superb example.
In regard to the earlier James Bond first editions, especially the first three titles, finding them in very good+ condition is very difficult, often resulting in collectors accepting copies with some wear to jacket extremities, price-clipping or similar; some collectors prefer to get such jackets restored professionally where possible, though the trend for this goes up & down.
The difference in price can be surprising, Moonraker for example is notorious for dulling to the flame pattern on the jacket, especially at the spine, and as a result genuinely bright, unrestored or tampered with examples can exceed £12,000, even at auction. Compare this to the £5,000-£7,000 you might expect for what would still be otherwise considered a 'very good' example with the usual dulling to the colour and you have an insight into the difference condition can make. Truly exceptional copies of Casino Royale can fetch over £60,000, compared to the c. £30,000 you might pay for a very good, unsophisticated example or a copy with skilful restoration resulting in a copy that still presents very well.
Signed and Association Copies
Signed copies of James Bond first editions do come onto the market surprisingly often, though the marriage of an early Bond title with coeval inscription and in excellent condition dust-jacket is very rare and will lead to an eye-watering asking price. It was not uncommon for Fleming to sign copies with simple, somewhat oblique dedications or inscriptions, and when the association can be identified as significant collectors will expect to pay a lot more, often adding thousands of pounds to the value. Examples of this can be people who advised Fleming on elements in the James Bond books, such as the relative merits of a Walther PPK, or more personal associations to important historical people he may have met during his time with Naval Intelligence or as a journalist. Again a reputable bookseller will be able to advise you further on such associations, as well as verifying the signature or handwriting as genuine.
Copies of Bond books signed by other notable people relating to the books or films can also be highly sought after, though the added value would be more in the hundreds of pounds range than thousands in most cases, unless by very key people such as the Bond actors. A fine first issue copy of Octopussy signed by Moore could elevate the potential asking price from £150 to approximately £650, whilst a copy signed by one of the lesser-known characters' actors could take it to £250-300, for example.
Extensions to the Literary Franchise
Several other authors nobly continued the James Bond series, notably Kingsley Amis (“Robert Markham”), Raymond Benson, John Gardner and, most recently, Sebastian Faulks. The series of books by Charlie Higson on the adventures of the young James Bond also appeal to some completists, as do the two screen adaptations by Christopher Wood (The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979)). First editions of these can be collectable, of particular note would be the first printing, first issue of Gardner's Goldeneye, which is notoriously tricky to identify and locate.
If you would like more information on buying or selling James Bond first editions, please contact Roddy Newlands at Shapero Rare Books.
This is a development on an article written originally for the Antiques Trade Gazette's Rare Books Supplement by Roddy Newlands in 2016